Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #6: Be Careful What You Wish For…

There’s a fundamental problem with gambling: Sometimes you lose.

When last we left Ophilia, the Phili Five were on cruise control, rocking Rock Tunnel, schooling Cyrus, and dominating the Celadon Gym on the way to our fourth badge. With the Game Corner, Pokémon Tower, and Fuschia City quivering before me, there was nary an obstacle in sight.

So I decided to make an obstacle instead…and naturally, I got just what I deserved.

Team at Journal Start Team at Journal End
Lv. 34 Venusaur Lv. 16 Growlithe
Lv. 34 Nidoking Lv. 39 Nidoking
Lv. 34 Golbat Lv. 16 Machop
Lv. 34 Dugtrio Lv. 38 Dugtrio
Lv. 34 Hypno Lv. 39 Hypno
Lv. 13 Oddish Lv. 13 Ekans

But let’s start with the good times, shall we?

The House Doesn’t Always Win

Yeah, that’s not suspicious or anything.

With Erika out of the way, I was free to explore the rest of Celadon City, which admittedly took all of about three minutes. I picked up a few trinkets at the Department Store, stared longingly at the Eevee I couldn’t have (thanks to the five different Eeveelutions I’ve used over the years), and eventually made my way over to the Game Corner, where Ophilia’s crew decided to copy Ocean’s Eleven and knock over the biggest casino in town.

Some people make well-thought-out plans for heists like this. I just kick in the front door.

Once we were inside, the crew performed an exhaustive breadth-first search looking for the elevator key that would give us access to the boss. I’d like to say that the Rocket lackeys wandering around offered some sort of challenge, but they didn’t. The only concerning moment was when Luna switched in to an Selfdestructing Koffing to cover for Will, but she was enough of a tank by this point that it didn’t even turn her health bar yellow. Eventually I found the key, rode the elevator and came face-to-face with Team Rocket’s infamous boss Giovanni.

Allow me to introduce myself: I’m your worst nightmare.

Giovanni turned out to be a weaker, Ground-focused version of Erika, and Earl made short work of his Pokémon. The Silph Scope was mine, but after yawning my way through another disappointing dungeon, I was beginning to wonder if I’d sucked all of the challenge out of this Nuzlocke run.

Who You Gonna Call?

The next stop on The Phili Five’s tour was Pokémon Tower, where my shiny new Silph Scope meant the local ghosts were now visible and beatable. Sadly, the Tower turned out to just as underwhelming as the Game Corner, and with both Cubones and Gastly unavailable due to prior usage, there really wasn’t a lot to do here.

I ain’t afraid of no ghost.

I quickly cleaned up the possessed Trainers and made my way to the top of the tower to tackle the ghostly Marowak and free Mr. Fuji. Even at Lv. 30, the mighty Marowak was efficiently dispatched back into the arms of the Sacred Flame, and the only concerning moment came when facing the trio of Rockets guarding Mr. Fuji, as Luna ate another Selfdestruct trying to cover for Will.

I suppose this beats “your princess is in another castle.”

With yet another day saved, Ophilia returned with Mr. Fuji to his home and picked up the Poké Flute as a reward. The road ahead was clear: Unblock the way to Cycling Road, make my way south to Fuschia City, wipe out everything in my path with my OP monsters, and profit. There was just one problem with this plan:

Trinity was right: I’d been down that road before, and this time it would end with the most ho-hum Nuzlocke journal in the history of history. Things had gotten pretty stale in Kanto, and I was looking for a way to spice things up…and the hot tea I’d randomly picked up in Celadon was just the spice I needed.

Going Rogue

*sigh* So much for that bottled water I bought you…

Fuschia City didn’t hold much promise for me, but with a Psychic Gym to test Phili’s Poison Posse, Saffron City sure did. Technically Sabrina is the sixth Gym leader and my OCD usually prevents me from doing things-out-of-order like this, but this run was for the people, darn it, and the people want drama and suspense! I wasn’t sure exactly what I would be walking into, but with five monsters at Lv. 36 (plus whatever levels I could wring out of Silph Co. and the Fighting Dojo), I was confident that they could handle anything. (I was almost right, but we’ll get there…)

Skyscraper, Starring The Rock Ophilia

Just make sure you spell my name right when you do it, okay?

Using the same breadth-first technique as in the Game Corner, I methodically worked my way up the Silph Co. building, smiting any and all bad guys that dared cross my path. (The number of double-agent scientists I met surprised me, but hey, when you run out of grant funding, you do what you have to do.) The battles still weren’t terribly hard, but at least they were tough enough to make me start respecting type matchups again (no more tossing Will against Flying-types). Once again, despite canvasing every floor and opening every Card Key door, the only real moment of panic was when Luna ate a third Selfdestruct in the name of keeping Will alive. (I hope he sends her a thank-you card when all this is over…)

Amazingly, I actually remembered which tiles took me directly to the boss on the top floor, but I had one prior appointment before I re-introduced myself to Giovanni:

I’m not afraid of you. Bring it on!

To his credit, Cyrus had actually done his homework this time, and his team was roughly at the same level as mine. Still, by working the one-on-one matchups in my favor, I quickly gained the upper hand: Luna knocked the Pidgeot out of the air, Bram Wing Attacked the Exeggcute into oblivion, Suzy shut down Gyarados with Sleep Powder and Leech Seed, and Will sent Alakazam packing with a single shot.

This battle is mine, I thought as I tossed out Earl to face…wait, WHAT?!

Um… This isn’t going to end well, is it? (Original LeBron image by MrBoulderShoulders)

The Charizard Catastrophe

Much like LeBron James, Cyrus’s Lv. 40 Charizard was a superhuman (superPokémon?) mix of speed, strength, smarts, and skill, and he came out spitting fire like he was Kendrick Lamar. Worse still, his extra Flying typing meant Will was no longer viable against him, and apparently my assumption that Ground types resisted Fire attacks was not based on reality. Earl went from full HP to 4 HP in a single turn, and the race was on.

I burned one of my Hyper Potions on Luna, but it bought me a measly two rounds in which I could barely do any damage. Unlike the random AI of other battles, Charizard just kept spamming Flamethrower this time around, and he put the entire team on the ropes very quickly.

Eventually, I was forced to make a decision: No one could switch in a stand up to another Flamethrower, so someone had to be sacrificed to put the team back on equal footing with the rampaging fire beast. This was an easy decision: Oscar the HM Oddish saw his first and last battle action of the run, giving himself up to set a key block for…

For…

…For who, exactly?

Okay, now what?

By this point, the only Pokémon I had with any HP at all was Suzy, and everyone knows what happens when Grass meets Fire in a Pokémon game. She had Sleep Powder and Leech Seed, though, and those were the kinds of moves that could make or break a close match like this one. I crossed my fingers, prayed to the Sacred Flame that Suzy still had a Speed advantage over Charizard, and sent her out.

We make our move.

Suzy is faster!

Sleep Powder connects!

…And that’s about where my brilliance ended. Razor Leaf wasn’t going to do squat against a Fire/Flying Pokémon, and Tackle is, well, Tackle. That left Leech Seed to do some stall damage while I thought of a better plan.

Charizard wakes up. So much for stalling.

Charizard uses Flamethrower.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Saffron — mighty Suzy has struck out.

—Original words from Ernest Thayer’s “Casey At The Bat”

I don’t remember exactly what I said when this happened, but whatever it was prompted someone nearby to ask if I was okay. I was not.

I was officially in panic mode now, and when you panic, you tend to make bad decisions. Mine was to send out the Pokémon with the most HP left (Bram) as Charizard’s next challenge. While this made sense from an HP perspective, Bram had been paralyzed by Exeggcute earlier in the match, and thus was a sitting duck for Charizard to outrun him and turn him into a pile of ashes.

I was beyond panic mode now: I had attempted to inject life into my Nuzlocke run, and now it was on the verge of collapsing around me. I looked down at the three remaining members of the Phili Five, none of which were in any shape to fight, and then stared up at the sky and posed a question to the Sacred Flame: What the @#$% do I do now?

At that moment, the clouds parted, and a booming voice (that sounded a lot like the God character on The Late Show) called down with an answer:

Charizard is fast, my child…but he is not Dugtrio fast.

Up to this point, I’d been complaining a lot about Will’s performance in relation to his peers. While Suzy, Earl, Bram, and Luna were generalists that could be tossed into nearly any situation, Will’s abysmal HP and Defense made him more of a specialist that needed to pick his spots carefully, and he often needed to be rescued when a situation turned against him (and after taking three Selfdestructs to the face, you know Luna was telling Suzy, “You bail him out next time. I am done.”).  On the flip side, however, Dugtrio is officially the fifth-fastest Pokémon in G1 (and remains in the Top 40 even in G7!), so if he could get one solid attack off, it might be enough to escape with the win.

By sheer luck, Will had made it to Lv. 38 just before the fight, meaning that I could finally replace his mediocre Scratch with the much-more-potent Slash attack. I took a deep breath, gave the command, and…

Ballgame! I was so psyched over the win that I forgot to take a picture, but this sums up the battle nicely.

Will channeled his inner Craig Kimbrel and slammed the door on Cyrus, sending him to his sixth defeat. He took it with his usual grace and humility:

No Cyrus, you’re a monster, and one of these days you’ll pay for everything you’ve done.

I collected my money, flipped Cyrus the longest, stiffest middle finger I could muster, and made a mad dash back to the Pokémon Center to sort out my losses.

Conclusions

Well, I guess I accomplished my goal of putting the challenge back into my Nuzlocke run! The Phili Five is down to the Phili Three, I’ve lost my HM Oddish, and all the depth I thought I had (Growlithe, Machop, and Ekans) is suddenly being pressed into service. Just how big of a pickle am I in?

  • Losing Suzy is not only a huge psychological blow (you never want to lose your starter), but hurts me in three major ways:
    • Loss of Tank: I hope Luna isn’t too sore about her defensive duties, because she’s about to take on even more of them.
    • Loss of Grass type: Losing Suzy and Oscar means I don’t have any Grass-type options at all, and the picking are slim going forward. Basically, if I don’t get something good out of the Safari Zone, I’m stuck hoping to get a Tangela on Route 21.
    • Loss of Pokémon catcher: With Leech Seed and Sleep Powder, Suzy was my go-to Pokémon for capturing monsters (and I haven’t missed a catch yet!). Without her, capture battles could be a whole lot more tricky and dangerous.
  • Losing Bram leaves several type holes in my roster (most notably Flying, but she also had my only Dark move). Given all my other Flying-type restrictions, I have two options: Catch a Doduo on my way to Fuschia City, or stock up on Max Repels and take a shot at Articuno or Moltres. (Scyther is also a possibility, but again the Safari Zone is far from a sure thing.)

There’s still a silver lining here: Luna is a real beast and the closest thing I have to a Suzy clone, Will is fragile but has a knack for coming through in the clutch, and above everything else, Earl is a survivor, and if he makes it past the Viridian Gym, he’ll be a survivor with Strength/Return and Earthquake. With plenty of both current options (Growlithe, Machop) and future ones (one of those Snorlaxes will be mine, dang it!) to fill my empty party slots, we may have to abandon our Saffron City plan and clear out Fuschia City first, but we’re not out of this thing just yet.

Tune in next week as we rebuild our roster and attempt to conquer Fuschia City!

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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #5: The Beat(down) Goes On

According to Newton’s Third Law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This law apparently does not apply to Pokémon, because Ophilia’s crew keeps forcing the issue and the reaction since Cerulean City has been markedly less than equal.

When we last left everyone’s favorite Sacred Flame rep, her team had just hit the Vermilion Gym like a freight train, flattening everything in their path and collecting a shiny new Thunder Badge. Unfortunately, thanks to some annoyingly thirsty guards at the Saffron City gates, we were going to have to reach Celadon City by way of Rock Tunnel and Lavender Town, which is roughly the equivalent of driving from Austin to San Diego by way of Seattle. With four strong monsters and a fifth on the way, however, Phili was more than up to the challenge.

Let’s begin this week’s journal said fifth monster, shall we?

Sleep: It’s Good For Your Health

At Lv. 13, Luna needed a fair bit of care and feeding before she became a viable option in my top six. While she turned out to be more “tank-like” than anyone else on my team (decent HP and Defense, exceptional Spec. Defense), her poor attacking stats meant she just got kicked around a bit more slowly than the other Pokémon. This meant yet another trip back to Route 4 for some extended grinding (plenty of Poison-types to unleash Confusion on) while I waited for Luna’s moveset to improve.

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind by “improve”…

In truth, her moveset didn’t seem to improve as much as Luna herself: As she moved over to Route 24 and received a steady diet of Abras and Oddishes (with a stream of Caterpies for good measure), Confusion got noticeably more powerful over time, and her Attack improved enough that Headbutt became a decent-enough second option when needed. Toss in the strengths she already had (her defensive stats compared favorably with already-evolved monsters like Suzy), and Luna’s argument for staying in my six-stack was pretty compelling.

And then she evolved…and suddenly I had a Reinhardt Wilhelm clone in my party.

The grinding regimen eventually led me back to Diglett’s Cave and Route 2, where I stumbled across one of Prof. Oak’s aides carrying the Flash HM. I’d mostly forgotten about Flash until now (it’s been slowly de-emphasized since Red/Blue), but my Oddish was more than happy to learn the move and keep me from stumbling around Rock Tunnel in the dark. Once again, the first rule of RPGs (“explore everything“) had paid off!

Beware Of Obscure Rules

With a battle-tested Hypno and the Flash HM, I finally cut down the tree east of Cerulean City and strode confidently onto Route 9. The Trainers I found were only marginally tougher than those Routes 6 and 11, but there was one tense moment when Will stepped up against a Lv. 21 Geodude and I forgot my prior training…

Long ago during my Pokémon XD playthrough, I found a whole bunch of “Battle CDs” that let me play through simulated battles that put the player in a challenging situation that taught them about some of the more obscure rules of Pokémon battles. The important CD for this story was Battle CD 07, which showed players that Pokémon that used Dig would take double damage from Earthquake while they were underground. However, there was one other move besides Earthquake subject to this damage bonus:

[In G2 and G3] “The [Dig] user can now be hit by Earthquake, Magnitude, and Fissure during the semi-invulnerable turn, and will receive double damage from Earthquake and Magnitude.”  Bulbapedia (emphasis added)

Fast forward back to Route 9: Magnitude’s variability had been getting on my nerves, so I had Will open the battle with Dig. He goes underground.

The Geodude uses Magnitude.

My mind flashes back to that XD Battle CD. Double damage.

This is bad.

Will is already short a decent chunk of HP, and his Defense is not good.

This is really bad.

In baseball terms, this was going to be a bang-bang play at the plate, and I was testing the arm of the RNG god in right field. I braced myself for the call…

SAFE! And the crowd goes wild!

Magnitude six! Move variability had once again broke in my favor: Anything higher, and Will would have likely been toast. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, chalked it up as a lesson re-learned, and hurried back to the Cerulean Pokémon Center.

Building The Bench

With Luna flourishing and my HM-holding Oddish clogging up my final party slot, I was in no hurry to add new monsters to my team. It’s a good thing, because neither Routes 9 nor 10 held much potential for recruiting a cool new Pokémon to the Sacred Flame’s banner. (The only new option that had been added was Voltorb, and my LeafGreen Electrode rendered that option moot.) Once again, there was a single Pokémon for me to catch…

And of course it’s a Poison-type.

Ekans had been following me around for a while now (had I not bought Benjamin, I would have gotten one on Route 4), so I knew it was only a matter of time before I ended up catching one. One Poké Ball later, “Baroness” (a G.I. Joe reference, since Baroness worked for Cobra) was on her way to Bill’s PC.

But hey, at least I might get something cool in Rock Tunnel, right?

Wrong.

Machops are one of those monsters that show up in darn near every Pokémon game, and while they’re useful for carrying HMs, I’ve never had much interest in putting one in a six-stack (and while I’ve said the same things about Nidorans and Zubats, I wasn’t as desperate to fill my party as I was before). Still, it was nice to know I would have a few options available if Will got caught underground by Magnitude again, so I grabbed the Machop, named it after Ronda Rousey, and sent it to be roomies with Baroness.

Whaddya Mean It Can’t Evolve?

While Pokémon FireRed is technically a remake of Pokémon Red, it’s still a G3 game, and thus is well aware that some of the original Pokémon evolutionary lines have expanded since the late 90s. Unfortunately, when it comes to those new monsters, the game takes a strict constructionist approach to the topic:

“To keep the same spirit of the originals, players can’t evolve their Pokémon like Chansey and Golbat until the National Dex is obtained.”  Serebii (emphasis added)

Blissfully unaware of this, I was really excited when Bram reached Lv. 30 and suddenly acted like it was about to evolve. The usual cut scene started, things started to flash, and then…

What?! I didn’t hit the B button!

So from now until either Bram or the Elite Four falls, I have to go through this bizarre charade every time he levels up, without any explanation? (What’s worse is that while an Everstone is available from Oak’s aide at the Rock Tunnel Pokémon Center, you need to have caught 20 monsters to get it, and I’d only gotten 17 at the time.) I know that any software is going to have issues like this, but at least tell the player what’s going on next time.

Rock On

So…yeah. Rock Tunnel happened.

I’d like to say there were some moments of excitement and drama as I crawled through the dark to Lavender Town, but there really weren’t. Not only were my Pokémon more than powerful enough to smack down everything in their path, but anytime there might have been a hint of danger (Gasp! A Lv. 25 Slowpoke is challenging Bram!), Ophilia’s team stepped up and delivered some killer blows (*yawn* Another critical Bite—bye Slowpoke).

Okay, there was one interesting development. Just when you thought Suzy couldn’t get more OP…

By the end, I was flaunting my power by intentionally tossing Pokémon into awkward situations (i.e., Will against Flying-types) just to test the limits of the Sacred Flame’s protection. Even with a bonus bunch of Trainers waiting to ambush me just outside the tunnel exit, “The Phili Five” just could not be stopped.

My team’s post-tunnel status. If only Will hadn’t taken that Pidgey’s critical hit…

Laying Rivals To Rest

Lavender Town presents players with a bit of a dilemma: Celadon beckons from Route 8, but Route 12 also teases you from the south, and the Pokémon Tower looms ominously above you. Where should you go next?

My Marowak from Red and Genger from SoulSilver meant that there wasn’t anything I could catch in the tower, but I could sense an evil force within its walls that I just had to investigate. It turned out, however, that the force wasn’t actually evil—it was just lame:

How convenient: Once I’m through with Cyrus’s Pokémon, he won’t have to go far to bury them!

It seems that Cyrus had already forgotten about his embarrassing showing on the S.S. Anne, because he was ready to have his head handed to him once more. His Pokémon was slightly stronger this time around (with levels in the low to mid 20s), but they were still badly outclassed by Ophilia’s Lv. 30+ monsters.

Still, like any good rival Cyrus knows how to press our buttons, and after Bram sliced through his first three Pokémon without breaking a sweat, he introduced me to a new member of his team:

YOU POISON SON OF A BEEDRILL. That was supposed to be my Gyarados!

First this joker keeps me from realizing my dream of having a Gyarados, and then he goes and gets his own?! I let Suzy stomp his Gyarados extra-flat in response, and then turned Will loose on his Charmeleon to wrap things up. Cyrus left the tower in shame, and his Pokémon became the newest headstones in Pokémon Tower.

Optical Optional Illusions

Beyond schooling Cyrus, however, there wasn’t much else to do in Lavender Town. Without the Silph Scope, the monsters there weren’t even useful for grinding, and they didn’t seem to want me around anyway.

Darn it, where’s Luigi when you need him?
Oh… Right. (Image from The Daily Dot)

I decided to check out Route 12 first, but outside of a few unmemorable Trainer battles (even the Lv. 27 Goldeen was about as much of a nuisance as it was in Super Smash Bros.), there was nothing to do without a better Fishing Rod. All trails eventually led back to Route 8, and while the Trainers still couldn’t match the intensity of The Phili Five, there was one encounter that caught my attention:

Whoa, I didn’t expect to see you here…

Growlithe is one of those Pokémon that I’ve always thought was kind of cool, but for whatever reason I never seemed to get the chance to add it to my party. While I had already earmarked the last slot in my top six for a Water-type Pokémon, Growlithe/Arcanine might be an option in case one of my current starters falters (Will has looked a little shaky today, although it hasn’t always been his fault, and despite being 1800+ words into this journal I haven’t mentioned Earl’s name until now).

Growlithe’s moveset made this capture a bit tricky (she had Bite for Luna, Ember for Suzy, and thank goodness her only Roar failed), but eventually “Lassie” was burning in the service of the Sacred Flame.

Don’t worry—I’m special for way more reasons than just this. 😉

Time To Kick Some Grass

By the time I made it to Route 7, I was beginning to wonder just how long this week’s journal was going to be, so I decided to leave Celadon City’s usual tourist traps (Dept. Store, Game Corner, etc.) for episode #6, and made a beeline for the Celadon Gym. There were a ton of Trainers hanging around for a change, but Will, Luna, and Suzy made quick work of them all, leaving Earl and Bram to deal with Erika herself.

I’m kind of on a tight schedule, so let’s make this quick.

My opening strategy was simple: Set Earl on the ground in front of Erika’s monsters and calmly dare them to beat him. The best Victreebel and Tangela could do was paralyze him with Stun Spore, and based on how little damage their attacks were doing, he could have probably spotted them another dozen hits and still clobbered them.

My impatience led me to bring Bram in to one-shot Vileplume, but in the end it didn’t matter who I used: Erika’s Pokémon were no match for The Phili Five. In fact, Gym battles seem to be getting more one-sided the deeper I get into this game.

Now there’s the understatement of the century.

The Rainbow Badge was mine, but I had one last piece of business to handle: Recognizing Earl’s impressive stand against Erika as his crowning achievement, and…well, crowning him:

Get it? ‘Cause he’s a Nidoking? …Okay, I’ll stop now.

Conclusion

You know things are going well on a Nuzlocke run when your only worry is that your Pokémons’ raw power are draining all the challenge out of the game. (After all, people tend to get tired of teams who just win all the time.) I know fortunes can change in a hurry in these sorts of challenges, but I just don’t see any problems on the horizon. Koga has absolutely no chance against this squad: Everyone resists Poison (even my puny HM Oddish), and Will, Luna, and potentially Earl will have super-effective counterpunches. Sabrina’s Psychic Gym still looms, but given all the dungeons in between now and then (Game Corner, Pokémon Tower, and Silph Co., not to mention Cycling Road and the entire coast of Southeast Kanto), Ophilia’s team could be pushing Level 45 by the time she gets there, or maybe even 50!

Tune in next week as we tackle games, ghosts, and Fuchsia City!

My Reaction To The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct

When Masahiro Sakurai declared this to the ultimate version of Super Smash Bros., he wasn’t kidding.

Nintendo is banking this year’s entire holiday season on two of their biggest franchises, but while Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee has been doling out small chunks of information at a moderate pace, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has been given the royal treatment, getting a ton of airtime at E3 and now  receiving its own dedicated Nintendo Direct this week. While I’m not on the SSB express hype train that a lot of my peers are riding, there’s no denying that Sakurai and Nintendo have pulled out all the stops to make SSBU a personalized experience for players, giving them a multitude of tools to customize the game any way they see fit.

I’ll get to my specific thoughts on the Direct in a moment, but first I need to addressed the green-hatted specter in the room…

Dead Luigi: My livestream crashed multiple times at the start of the Direct, so I didn’t actually see Luigi get his soul ripped out by Death until I rewatched the recording. While I thought using Luigi’s Mansion to tie Castlevania to the SSB universe was a logical choice, I’m torn on the inclusion of the death scene for two reasons:

  • It was jarring and graphic enough that I’m concerned how younger children might have reacted to it.
  • It lit up Twitter so much that it overshadowed the actual reveals of the trailer. Simon Belmont is a great add and the Dedede/K. Rool troll was hilarious, but it was the fall of the plumber that people were talking about instead.

If you’re in the “no such thing as bad publicity” camp, it was a smart move that really got people’s attention. Personally, I would have rather seen more attention given to the actual game content and not the death scene.

Speaking of actual game content…

  • Simon and Richter: While I admit my reaction to Richter was “who?”, I was familiar enough with the Castlevania series to know that this was a big get for SSBU. The character’s range/speed tradeoff should make for an interesting dynamic on the battlefield (anyone who’s been splatted by an Explosher in Splatoon 2 knows slower attackers are still very dangerous in the right hands), and the Dracula’s Castle stage takes hazards to the extreme (but only if you want them; more on that later). Also, the demonstration of Alucard’s powers suggests that assist trophies, which can now be KO’d for points, are going to step up their game in response.
  • Chrom and Dark Samus: As someone who is not terribly familiar with Fire Emblem and Metroid, these characters just confused me more than anything else. Chrom is a major part of FE: Awakening and Dark Samus adds more villains to the series, so they certainly have strong cases for inclusion. Additionally, as Echo Fighters the development burden is assumed to be lighter than for characters built from the ground up, so the time/resource investment makes sense even if they’re niche characters (hey, if people wanted to play as actual Daisy instead of a recolored Peach, I imagine Dark Samus had a similar vocal fanbase). For me, however, neither character passes the Pichu test (as in “I’d rather play as Pichu”), so I though the reveal was pretty meh.
  • New/Old Stages: The stage work the SSBU team has put in here is nothing short of amazing. Over 100 stages, each with Omega and Battlefield versions?! The ability to switch stages in the middle of a battle?! Stage Hazards are now a option that can be toggled?! Sakurai and company are really trying to put power in the players’ hands, letting battles be as random or structured as people desire.
  • Music Options: The customization extends to the sound as well, with over 900 tracks included in the game. Playlists can now be created for specific stages (depending on the series the stage is based on), and your Switch can basically become an MP3 player even when you’re not playing. Once again, it’s all about giving the player the freedom to experience SSBU any way they want to.
  • Custom Rulesets: Of course, the rules are still as flexible as ever, with stamina battles joining time and stock as regular modes and several new stage selection options (ex. loser picks next stage) tossed in for flavor. Chargeable Final Smash meters, Squad Strikes, Smashdown mode… I’m a broken record at this point, but it’s all about flexibility and a personalized experience.
  • New Items/Pokémon/Trophies: Items are most useful for quick turnarounds and increased chaos anyway, so the new ones shown off here unsurprisingly take this to the extreme (also, the Banana Gun is just hilarious). Same goes for the Pokémon, although these feel a bit more standard (I have to admit though, the teleporting Abra idea seemed especially inspired). In terms of the Assist trophies, what stood out was (as Alucard showed earlier) how much more deadly they seemed this time around: If they’re going to count for KOs, they aren’t going to go down without a fight! (Especially Rathalos.)
  • Menu: Well…er…it’s a menu. I mean, it looks a lot like recent SSB menus, and the dashboard suggests that friend requests and other messages can be handled without leaving the game, but…yeah. It looks fine, I guess.
  • K. Rool: As ham-handed as the Luigi scene was, the Dedede scene was the exact opposite, a perfect troll head-fake that wound up adding another villain to the roster. K. Rool has been a really popular request from the SSB fanbase, so everything lined up perfectly for his inclusion. I have to say, tossing in all these bad guys could be setting up one heck of a Subspace Emissary-like campaign…

All of these reveals boil down to one major truth: Sakurai and the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team are giving you the ability to play the game in whatever way that maximizes your enjoyment. The title caters to casual and hardcore players, orderly and chaotic players, Melee and Brawl players…it bridges darn near any fighting-game divide you can think of. (If there’s one thing I’d like in Splatoon 3, it’s this level of battle customization and control.) SSBU is aiming to be a game that speaks to any player no matter their background, skill level, or personality, and as good as Breath Of The Wild and Super Mario Odyssey were, it may well be this one that defines this console generation.

So…can we stop whining about Waluigi now?

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #4: Gettin’ Diggy Wit It

So I may have overcorrected a smidgen after last’s week journal…

When we last left Ophilia, she was trying to rebound after a grueling trek to Cerulean City that sent three of her Pokémon to the great beyond. It’s said, however, that the hottest fire forges the strongest steel, and a surprisingly formidable team emerged from the ashes, anchored by three monsters (Ivysaur, Nidorino, Golbat) that I had little respect for going into this run. With a path forward that didn’t seem as daunting as the one behind me, I figured I could carry a little momentum into my third gym challenge. I just didn’t expect to carry this much momentum.

We begin this journal, however, with a legal discussion:

The Regional Variant Question

Thanks to my Pidgeot from Pokémon Red and the Oddish from Route 24, Routes 5 and 6 offered me a single measly option for expanding my Pokémon team:

Prepare for…wait, that wasn’t Meowth’s line.

Before G7, I would have tossed a Poké Ball without thinking and continued with my quest. Now, however, the issue wasn’t so cut and dried:

My parents have one of these, but she only knows Fury Swipes.

My Alolan Persian was a member of the six-stack that eventually conquered Pokémon Moon, but did that mean that I was prohibited from using Kanto Meowth/Persian now? Were regional Pokémon variants different enough to consider them as separate entities for Nuzlocke purposes, or did using one mean you couldn’t use any others?

Luckily, legal precedent on this question had already been set: In Gretchen vs. Ultra Sun earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the matter could be settled on a case-by-case basis via coin flip. Heads meant that regional versions were different enough that they could be treated as different Pokémon for Nuzlocke purposes, while tails meant that regional versions were too similar and thus had to be treated as a single entity.

The coin came up heads in Ultra Sun (which meant that yes, the Alolan Raticate consumed my catch slot for that route), but not this time:

No Meowth for Ophilia.

Without a catchable Pokémon, Route 5 held absolutely zero interest for me, so I made my way to the Underground Tunnel…which was just a long, empty hallway, so I ran through it as fast as possible to reach Route 6. This route at least had some Trainers with some decent Pokémon to challenge (including a Lv. 20 Butterfree that gave me some heartburn but didn’t end up killing anyone), but it too lost its luster fairly quickly, and so I stepped gingerly into Vermilion City.

No Trades For You!

After get rekted in Cerulean City, I was very wary going into Vermilion, afraid that Cyrus would reappear at any moment to decimate my party. I wandered through town the way a deminer might work their way through a mine field, making sure the coast was absolutely clear before moving forward. As it turned out, however, Vermilion City was only slightly more exciting than Pewter City, and outside of getting the Bike Voucher, there was nothing terribly interesting to see or do.

However, my hope of expanding my Pokémon roster hit yet another snag: Trading for Pokémon I could possess required catching ones that I couldn’t! I found a nice person who was totally willing to let me have their Farfetch’d, but I wasn’t allowed to catch the Spearow I needed to make the deal. (This happened again on Route 2, where my Abra prohibition kept me from getting a Mr. Mime.)

This game has increased my four-letter word usage by at least 75% since I started playing.

A quick check of Bulbapedia meant that Jynx and Lickitung, despite not being prohibited by past games, were also off-limits because I couldn’t catch the monsters needed to make the trades. Just freaking perfect…

Training Montage Time!

There was no way I was setting foot onto the S.S. Anne with only three feasible Pokémon, so I made a quick detour down Route 11 and ducked into Diglett’s Cave, where I finally found a new recruit:

Another Poison…wait, it’s not actually a Poison type this time!

A solid Ground-type is exactly what I needed to take on Lt. Surge’s crew at the Vermilion Gym, so I stuffed the thing into a Poké Ball and named it Will (because I was “gettin’ Diggy wit it”).

I had to run back up to Cerulean City to cash in a Bike Voucher anyway, so I figured I would stop along Routes 5/6 for some quality grinding. Will’s pitiful Defense, however, made Hulk’s look huge by comparison, and I had to drop all the way back to Route 4 to find enemies that wouldn’t flatten my newest monster.

Thankfully, Will’s attack set was already pretty decent at Lv. 19, and he climbed the ranks from Route 4 to 24 to 6 fairly quickly. The rest of the crew joined in the grindfest at Route 6 (and eventually back in Diglett’s Cave), and after a good hour or so, I had a quartet of Lv. 26 Pokémon that were ready to kick butts and chew bubblegum…and they didn’t have any bubblegum to begin with.

Oh, and guess who evolves at Lv. 26? You know what they say: Two heads are better than one, but having three is just unfair.

Big Fish In A Small Pond

Nearrrr… Farrrr… Whereevvvver you are…

I didn’t know what was waiting for me on the S.S. Anne, but given what I’d seen on Route 6, I was ready for a gauntlet of bloodthirsty Lv. 20+ creatures that were just itching to toss me overboard.

In reality…

Er… Is this it?

The Trainers on board turned out to be no stronger than their counterparts on Route 6, and my super-buff team went through the whole lot without breaking a sweat. I had to be careful with the type matchups, but most everything tilted in may favor: Suzy wiped up the Water types, Will handled the surprisingly-numerous Growlithes, Bram worked over the Fighting types, and Earl just Horn Attacked whatever he saw into oblivion.

Still, I was sure a stiffer challenge was coming, and when I made my way to the captain’s chambers…

A Dish Best Served Cold

I will have vengeance.

Cyrus wasn’t impressed by the seasick captain, and he was out looking for a fight…and I was the just son-of-a-Bulbasaur to give it to him. I didn’t know who or what was coming, but I had a score to settle, and settle it I would.

Then the Pokémon came out, and…wait, what?

Lv. 19!? …Oh, I’m going to enjoy this.

His Pokémon were barely any tougher than they had been in Cerulean City! Sure, he’d finally manage to evolve them all, but my team was at least seven levels higher than everything he had!  What had this joker been doing all this time, slacking off?

What happened next is a bit too graphic for younger readers’ eyes, so I shall sum it up thusly:

Pokémon Opponent Result
Pidgeotto Earl Two Horn Attacks, one dead bird.
Kadabra Will Will used Dig, and then buried the Kadabra in the hole.
Raticate Earl Earl Double Kicked the rat into next week.
Charmeleon Will Two words: Magnitude. Seven.

The fight was so one-sided that Suzy and Bram never even had to leave the bench. It was the first time that I regretted the decision to make my journals blogs instead of videos, because my reaction to this battle in real-time was absolutely priceless. There would be a new stone in the graveyard that night, but the only thing buried beneath it would be Cyrus’s dignity.

Unlike you, apparently.

Rest in peace, Benjamin and Reed. You have been avenged.

Surge Protector

I stepped off of the S.S. Anne with a shiny new Cut HM and a massive amount of confidence. I made a quick stop at the Pokémon Center, and one felled tree later I was at the Vermilion City Gym.

The Gym played out mostly as I expected: Wipe out the miniboss trainers, spend ten minutes trying to find and flip two consecutive switches (I really hope they do something different with this Gym’s puzzle in Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, because this one is more frustrating than fun), and tell Lt. Surge I was coming for his badge and his…Technical Machine.

I hope you weren’t planning on going anywhere, because you’re about to be Grounded…for life.

The gym’s trainees had caused me enough trouble with Thunder Wave that I decided not to play around with Surge: Will would be leading off this inning, and he would be in the batter’s box as long as his health would let him. This timeframe turned out to be “the entire battle”: Voltorb rolled over without much of a fight, and while Pikachu and Raichu tried to outflank me by using Double Team, they weren’t actually strong enough to hold their ground, and once Will connected with a single move, it was game over.

Said no one ever.

I collected my prizes, bid the good Lieutenant adieu, and walked away with my head held high.

The Fun Has Been Doubled!

Before heading north back to Cerulean City, I decided to clean up Route 11 and see if there were any useful Pokémon to be had there. As it turns out, there was:

Gosh, I’m starting to feel sleepy…

Psychic Pokémon were incredibly OP in the original Pokémon Red/Blue games, and after spending my entire journey worrying about when one could to do my Poison-heavy lineup, I finally had the chance to add one to my team. While it turned out to be my most difficult capture yet (it broke out of a few Poké Balls and resisted Sleep Powder with its Insomnia ability), before long “Luna” (named after a certain dreamwalking pony) was working in the service of the Sacred Flame.

Luna practicing the Royal Canterlot Voice with her namesake.

Besides Luna, however, Route 11 featured little of interest, as every Trainer and Pokémon I encountered wilted in the face of my Thunderbadge-certified team. …Well, almost every Pokémon:

I’ll deal with you later.

Conclusion

I’m not sure I had a right to feel good after episode #3, but I certainly do now. Will was easily the MVP of this session, and he joins a Suzy/Earl/Bram core that was already pretty darn solid. Despite the coming challenges (especially from moves like Selfdestruct), I think the team is set up perfectly for the short/mid-term: Suzy, Will, and Bram should dominate Rock Tunnel, Bram and Earl are ready to wreck Erika’s Grass-type Gym, and Luna gives me some insurance against the Gastlys/Haunters of Pokémon Tower and eventually Koga’s Poison-type Gym. (Even my Oddish has found a role as an HM carrier.) Round this six-stack out with a potent Water-type, and I might have a shot as Nuzlocke redemption after all!

Tune in next week as we make our way to Celadon City in the most roundabout fashion possible!

Why Is The Market So Bearish On Nintendo?

Seventeen months after the Switch’s release, Nintendo finds itself in a bizarre, inexplicable financial position. The company’s newest console continues to amaze, moving nearly twenty million units and staying surprisingly close to the Playstation 4’s pace at this point in its lifecycle. With several massive new titles on the horizon (Let’s Go Pikachu/EeveeSuper Smash Bros. Ultimate, etc.), the Big N seems primed for a massive holiday season and solid 2018 overall.

However, the financial markets seem less than impressed with Nintendo’s numbers thus far. “Nintendo stock is down more than 25% from its peak in March,” and one hedge fund recently made waves by betting $400 million that the stock would continue to slide. (Early returns on this strategy were not promising: Nintendo’s most-recent earnings beat expectations and dealt the fund an estimated loss of $27 million.) It begs the question: What do the wolves of Wall Street see that the rest of us don’t?

Currently, the reasons on record for the pessimism feel a little shaky to me:

  • Switch year-over-year sales are down this quarter compared to the last, but I wouldn’t call it a drastic drop (1.88 million vs. 1.97 million), and Eurogamer also reports that games sales “more than doubled over the same period last year” and that Nintendo claimed that hardware sales worldwide had increased since E3.
  • Nintendo’s underwhelming E3 presentation has been cited as a reason for concern, but the company’s post-E3 sales comment appears to counter this, and given the popularity of some of the announced titles (Smash Bros., Pokémon, and perhaps most-importantly in the short term, Fortnite), I just don’t buy this argument.
  • Bloomberg suggests that Nintendo’s slow approach to hot, profitable gaming trends such as “microtransactions, esports and releasing games across multiple platforms” is making investors nervous. To be sure, Nintendo’s approach to these ideas has been more deliberate and methodical than other companies, but the small steps they have made so far have been very promising (Pokémon Go, anyone?), and I expect the company’s efforts in these areas to continue growing in the near future.
  • The idea that “sustained selling pressure” is pushing people to act feels a bit weird to me, as if people are bailing just because other people who (in theory) know what’s up are bailing too. There’s probably a psychological component to all this somewhere (and perhaps the stock was a little overheated for brokers’ tastes), but I’m going to need to see the evidence before I trust some of these analysts.

So what does that leave us with? Well, there are a few thoughts that I haven’t seen discussed much in popular media that are worth exploring:

  • Nintendo’s paid online service is coming, and no one really knows what that means. We are officially one month away from the launch of Nintendo’s paid online services, and yet it still feels like we know next to nothing about it. Online offerings for NES-era titles will be meager to start, no one knows have cloud saving will work, the Switch’s online app remains completely useless for non-Splatoon players (and it’s not terribly useful for squidkids either), and there’s no guarantee that paying for the privilege of Nintendo’s online services will make them any more robust.

Frankly, this has the potential to annoy a lot of people if Nintendo botches the rollout, and the pricing plans, while much more consumer-friendly than its competitors, also make it less attractive as a revenue source to those who care about that sort of thing. To a hedge fund manager, this whole scheme sounds like a whole lot of risk with minimal reward.

  • The trade winds are bringing in some dark clouds.I’ve already gone over the risks that a trade war between the U.S. and Japan posed to Nintendo, but the rubber is about to meet the road, as the countries are scheduled to hold their first bilateral trade talks next week. President Donald Trump has gone after most every country that the U.S. has a significant trade deficit with except Japan, and the recent flurry of American tariffs indicates that he is not afraid to punish friends and foes alike. Given that the U.S. is a major market for Nintendo, any disruption that limits the company’s access to the market or its competitiveness within it could have major financial implications, and if the markets have any feeling at all that a trade storm is brewing, they’re going to move their money into safer harbors.
  • Could there be nerves over the new leadership? Nintendo has been going through some changes at the top of their organization, as Shuntaro Furukawa has replaced Tatsumi Kimishima as company president and both the CEO and president of Nintendo Europe have recently been replaced. Furukawa, despite being associated with Nintendo for over two decades, is described as “relatively young and unknown” by Fortune, and if there’s one thing the markets are averse to, it’s uncertainty. Perhaps these changes, coupled with some of the recent moves that received a lukewarm reception (does anyone talk about Nintendo Labo anymore?), are making people worry about the company’s future direction.

In the end, however, it’s hard to say just what has fueled this stock slump. Even with this dip, Nintendo is still rated as a strong buy for investors, and perhaps this downturn will just lead some bargain hunters to jump in before the stock rises again. As unimpressed as I’ve been with Nintendo’s overall 2018 lineup thus far, I’m really high on the company’s future potential (don’t forget, Metroid Prime 4 and a hardcore Pokémon title are also coming), and I’m confident that the markets will get the reassurances they need that Nintendo is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #3: The Best Laid Plans Of Magikarps And Men…

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
—Langston Hughes, “Dream Deferred”

Well Mr. Hughes, I guess we’re about to find out.

When we last left Ophelia, she was sitting at the entrance of Mt. Moon with a party that looked a little shaky on the surface, but still seemed to have great potential. Much of this potential centered around Benjamin the Expensive Magikarp, whose fearsome evolution had me dreaming of riding a Gyarados all the way to the Elite Four (and whose Water typing helped break up what was mostly a pack of Poison types). Suzy the Ivysaur felt destined for greatness from the start, but between Benjamin, Hulk the Mankey, and Reed the Beedrill, I figured at least one of them would step forward and join Suzy on that golden platform.

The Sacred Flame, however, works in mysterious ways, and so we begin this journal with the other Pokémon in the party…

My Name Is Earl

Right from the start, Earl the Nidoran felt different from any of the other monsters I’d caught so far. With his Peck attack, he was able to pull his own weight from the word go, laying waste to the denizens of Viridian Forest when I backtracked for more grinding. In no time at all he was a Lv. 12 warrior with Double Kick, which let him function as a poor man’s Hulk and face even the Rock types of Mt. Moon without fear. When I shifted my attention to the more-heralded Benjamin, not only did Earl not put or complain, but he became the primary switch-in on Route 3, laughing off the Spearows and Rattatas that made everyone else a little nervous.

And if you think he was great as a Nidoran, he was even better as a Nidorino!

I wasn’t terribly familiar with the Nidoran line and honestly hadn’t thought much about them, but Earl made a strong early impression that only grew as Ophilia’s journey continued.

On the other side of the spectrum…

A Fish Out Of Water

On some level, raising Benjamin wasn’t quite as aggravating as raising Reed because from the beginning, Ben offered absolutely no hope of fighting on his own. However, it turned out that Magikarps need a LOT of experience to level up, and I spent at least two hours running around Route 3 trying to at get Ben to at least match Earl’s level (Earl ended up gaining two more levels from the whole ordeal, while Reed and Hulk gained one apiece). Sure it was annoying, but that image of a Gyarados smacking down fools and taking no prisoners remained in my mind, and I just knew that all this effort would pay off in the end. Besides, outside of Reed nearly getting his clock cleaned again, nothing was lost in this effort except time and sanity.

It Was Only A Mountain….Right?

I started my trek into Mt. Moon slowly and methodically, carefully canvasing each area with Benjamin “leading” the charge. I knew what awaited me the moment I stepped into the darkness, and sure enough…

*sigh* All right pal, let’s get this over with.

Zubats have been tormenting me for two decades now, and I distinctly remembered how annoyed I was when I stepped into an exciting new cave during my Ultra Sun Nuzlocke, only to immediately run into one of these irritating flying bugs.

Any time you get the chance to make a Calvin & Hobbes reference, you do it.

I caught the darn thing, and a part of me wanted to keep it in my party just to block them from ruining any more Nuzlocke runs. (I recall Derrick Bitner also had good luck with a Crobat during his Crystal Nuzlocke run.) For now, though, I stuck “Bram” at the back of the party and figured I’d find a place for him later. (Spoiler alert: I did.)

The upper floors of the cave posed little challenge, even with Benjamin’s switches giving everything a free shot at my party. The minute I stumbled into Team Rocket, however, that changed…

On the surface, the battle didn’t look terribly bad: The grunt tossed out a Lv. 13 Rattata to meet Benjamin, and I went to my usual playbook: Switch to Hulk, Karate Chop the rat to pieces, and move on with my life. The problem, however, was that Rattatas learn the incredibly-underrated move Hyper Fang at Lv. 13, and when an 80-power STAB-boosted move is tossed against Hulk’s awful Defense…

The game draws first blood.

To put it mildly, I was not happy, and I voiced my displeasure by turning Suzy loose on the rest of the grunt’s motley crew. I didn’t lose a monster in my Ultra Sun run until the Totem Mimikyu fight, so having Hulk go down this early in the game wasn’t a good sign.

In retrospect, this loss was primarily Benjamin’s fault: Not only did the switch-in give the Rattata an opening it could drive a truck through, but the Magikarp’s insatiable appetite for experience points meant that the rest of the crew weren’t getting the training they needed to keep their edge. Still, this was a future Gyarados we were talking about! As long as Benjamin was alive, so were my dreams of dominance.

For now, Suzy and my new Nidorino Earl picked up most of the slack, and I emerged from the cave without further damage.

I also picked up a Kabuto lottery ticket. Hopefully I survive long enough to cash it in!

Route 4 proved to be slightly more interesting on the backside of Mt. Moon, which basically means “you can actually catch Pokémon here.” Out of morbid curiosity, I wandered into the grass to answer the question “What would I have gotten here had I not forked over the Benjamins for Benjamin?”

Another Poison type? No thanks, I’d rather have the Magikarp.

I wandered briefly into Cerulean City to drop off Hulk, heal my remaining monsters, and pick up a few supplies, but I quickly returned to Route 4 to continue Benjamin’s grinding. Despite its slow pace, signs of progress were beginning to appear: Ben’s Tackle wasn’t terribly effective, but he had decent-enough Defense to stand in the pocket for a battle or two and deliver an accurate throw while under pressure. (Maybe he was actually named after Ben Roethlisberger!) Everyone else seemed to be in good shape and spirits, and with Earl stepping capably into Hulk’s shoes (thank goodness he did, because Reed certainly wasn’t going to), I felt pretty good about the team and its chances against Misty in the second gym.

…And then it happened.

The Cerulean City Massacre

As Benjamin reached Lv. 17, my patience started to wear thin: Even if I used the Rare Candy I’d picked up in Mt. Moon, I still needed two more levels to reach Gyarados nirvana, and the competition on Route 4 just didn’t seem to cut it anymore. In contrast, the roads north of Cerulean City featured plenty of Trainers who offered plenty of experience, starting with the famous five that made up Nugget Bridge. Paying a visit to Bill the PokéManiac and cleaning out Routes 24 and 25 along the way would get me a Gyarados in no time flat!

I hit the Pokémon Center one last time and made my way northwards, ready to wipe my meager competition right off the bridge…and discovered that there was one more Trainer waiting for me than I expected.

I won’t tell you what I said when this joker showed up…but it was only four letters long.

I had forgotten about Cyrus since the Mt. Moon meeting that wasn’t, but I knew I was in big trouble the moment he reappeared. His team was a bad matchup for mine as it was, and he wasn’t going to pull his punches the way he did on Route 22. Toss in the fact that Benjamin was still fronting the party while Cyrus was leading with his Pidgey (which was now a frightening Pidgeotto whose level nearly equaled the rest of my team), and things did not look good at all.

The battle began, and while Cyrus’s team unleashed their full fury on me, some frantic Pokémon juggling  and a surprisingly-good defensive stand from Benjamin allowed me to KO both Cyrus’s Pidgeotto and Rattata without suffering any losses. Sadly, my luck ran out when Charmander stepped onto the battlefield: Everyone’s health (save the Lv. 7 Bram) was yellow or worse, and Potions were my only option for healing.

(Looking back, I wish I had taken more pictures of this battle, but I was so stressed/focused I completely forgot.)

A Potion-fortified Earl held out for as long as he could, but in the end it was Benjamin who had to take the brunt of Charmander’s Embers. The not-so-Sacred Flames eventually sent my Magikarp to his maker, taking all my wasted grinding and dreams of Gyarados glory with it.

Reed was the next monster up, but Bug types don’t hold up well against fire, and you can probably guess how that ended. Before giving up the ghost, however, Reed left Cyrus a parting gift: A full 5-hit Fury Attack, cutting down Charmander’s health enough for Suzy to finish it off with a single hit.

And thus the climax arrived: Suzy, with a mere 9 HP left to her name, staring down a full-health Lv. 16 Abra. At the time, I didn’t realize the stupid thing only knew Teleport—I figured it was just itching to drop Confusion on my sorry behind. As I surveyed my options, however, I realized that I had one last trick up my sleeve:

“The only excitement came at the very end of the battle, when Suzy learned PoisonPowder and Sleep Powder simultaneously and I had to decide which moves I wanted to keep.”  —From Episode #2

The move I ended up keeping was Sleep Powder, and I unleashed it here. Two Vine Whips later, both Abra and Cyrus were toast, and I was kicking myself over not pulling out Sleep Powder earlier.

You will pay for all this. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.

So the answer to the question of who among Hulk, Reed, and Benjamin would “step forward and join Suzy on that golden platform” ended up being “none of the above.” In truth, however, Earl (who had barely hung on himself with 3 HP) had usurped all three of them long before now, and it was a good thing, because he and Suzy were suddenly all I had left. How the heck was I supposed to beat Misty now?

Back To The Grind: Zubat Edition

Despite being an afterthought in the Cyrus fight, Bram was also still around, although at Lv. 7 he wasn’t going to be much help against Misty’s crew. With a heavy heart but no other options, I trudged back to Route 4 and started grinding once again, hoping to making Bram a viable option before I took on the Cerulean gym. Bram wasn’t as useless as Reed or Benjamin, but with only lightweight attacks like Leech Life and Astonish, he had to lean heavily on her fellow monsters for assistance.

While losing so many Pokémon was certainly painful, it also meant that the experience points I was earning was more concentrated, which meant that Suzy and Earl got as much out of the grindfest as Bram did. When I eventually returned to Route 24, the pair sliced through Nugget Bridge like a hot knife through butter, and we hurried to the nearest patch of grass for some emergency reinforcements. Unfortunately, most of the monsters there were repeats that I’d already caught (Weedle, Kakuna) or used in an earlier game (Abra, Pidgey, Caterpie). There was one exception, but…

Another Poison type?!

Sure, it was basically an inferior clone of Suzy, but it was better than nothing. I caught it, named it after one of the characters from The Odd Couple, and moved on.

Slowly but surely, Bram started showing some flashes of potential (even wiping out some entire teams on Route 25), with some heavy assists from its movepool: Bite gave me some marginal protection against Psychic-types (even a Slowpoke and Drowzee proved to be no competition), while Wing Attack was a stiff STAB move I could default to in a pinch. Still, with the decimation of my team still fresh in my memory, I decided “better safe than sorry” and burned the Rare Candy I’d been saving for Benjamin to get Bram one last crucial level:

It’s a face only a mother could love, but if it wins me a second badge, I might just kiss it.

With a decent Flying-type backing my original dynamic duo, I snapped up a few Super Potions and kicked in the door of the Cerulean gym.

Washing Away From The Competition

After rising from the ashes of my battle with Cyrus, Misty’s gym was a bit of a letdown, especially when I was expected the packed house that I saw in HeartGold and SoulSilver. The two undercard bouts provided little competition, so I went straight to Misty’s podium and demanded an audience.

To paraphrase Randy Travis, you can’t hurt someone who can’t feel nothin’ no more. Do you worst.

The answer to the question “Does Misty have a Staryu or Starmie?” turned out to be both, but it didn’t matter in the end: Bram two-shotted Staryu out of existence, and not even a Super Potion could save Starmie from Suzy’s Razor Leaves. Misty’s vaunted crew folded like a lawn chair, and I walked away with badge #2.

Conclusions

This wasn’t the team I expected to have at this point, but as rough as this run was, I feel pretty good about my Pokémon’s potential, Gyarados or no Gyarados. Suzy was her usual bulletproof self, Earl was a revelation who got stronger over time, and Bram made a strong case for receiving a spot on my top six. On the flip side, Hulk’s Defense made him hard to rely on, Reed was probably going to be replaced anyway, and Benjamin never got strong enough for me to really miss him. In contrast to Misty, Lt. Surge doesn’t worry me all that much: Grass types like Suzy resist electricity, and I was planning on hitting up Diglett’s Cave first anyway. Besides, after three deaths in one episode, there’s really nowhere to go but up, right?

Tune in next week as we travel underground, over the water, and towards a shocking confrontation in Vermilion City!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #2: Bugs, Brocks, and Impulse Buys

You know you’ve reached a weird place when your favorite new addition to your team is the wimpy little fish.

When last we left Ophilia, she was coming off a triumphant-but-bizarre victory over her rival thanks to her incredible Pokémon Suzy and Hulk. Today, she points her compass north to Pewter City, hoping to spread the gospel of the Sacred Flame and pick up her first gym badge along the way. Just like in Octopath Traveler, she will need strong, capable allies to complete her journey…and she didn’t find any this time around.

Waltz Of The (Viridian) Forest

Technically Route 2 is the first place you enter after leaving Viridian City, but without the Cut HM in hand, there isn’t a whole lot to do there. After a few battles against the same old Rattatas and Pidgeys as before, I took a deep breath and stepped into the famed Viridian Forest.

Should I be worried? Because I’m not.

Normally I love coming to Viridian Forest: It’s got a plethora of Caterpies, and the only Pokémon that has shown up in my top six as often as Blastoise is Butterfree (Pokémon Yellow, Gold, and LeafGreen). Butterfrees are off-limits this time, unfortunately, and that sorry excuse for a Pikachu I had in Pokémon Yellow means I had exactly one option for growing my posse…

*sigh* I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been a Harden-only Kakuna.

Once again, my brother’s favorites come back to haunt me…I distinctly remember us whining back in the day because all the Weedles seemed to be in my game (Pokémon Red) and all the Caterpies were in his (Blue). Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and with only two Pokémon on hand I needed any and all reinforcements I could find. I stuffed the Weedle into a Poké Ball and named it Reed for obvious reasons. …Wait, what do you mean, “it’s not obvious at all?” Clearly:

  • Beedrills were as close to bumblebees as Pokémon got until Combees in G4, and
  • “Bumble” is how Yukon Cornelius referred to the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and
  • “Snowman” was the CB handle of Cledus Snow in Smokey and the Bandit, and
  • Snow’s role was played by Jerry Reed.

See? It’s totally obvious once you think about it. 😉

Kyle Uses Foresight! It’s Super Effective!

Under the mistaken assumption that Poison attacks were super-effective against Bug Pokémon (they were in G1, but never again), I started grinding near the forest entrance to bring Reed up to par with his new teammates. After a couple of battles, however, a thought struck me: How seriously should I take the threat of poison?

In early-gen Pokémon games, poison would not only deal damage every turn in battle, but also deal 1 damage for every so many steps taken outside of battle as well, and could even make a Pokémon faint while you were just walking around! This was toned down to not allow out-of-battle fainting in later generations, but I wasn’t sure when the change actually happened. With no Antidotes on hand and a decent distance from a Pokémon Center, a poisoned Pokémon could be real trouble.

Thankfully, Wi-Fi was available even deep within the forest, and I made a digital beeline for Bulbapedia:

Translation: Yeah, poison could be a problem.

Approximately twelve seconds later…

I actually only bought 5, but you get the idea.

Lo and behold, Hulk was poisoned in my very next battle, and I was ready for it! If only I could think this far ahead when I play Splatoon

They Grow Up So Fast Mother$%#&ing Slow…

For as much as I complained about leveling up Hulk, raising Reed was even more painful. While Mankeys at least have a decent Attack to cover their defensive deficiencies, Weedles have no such bright spot: Even if Poison Sting poisons its target, you’re still looking at a five- or six-hit KO, which gives the opponent plenty of time to knock you silly.

Fearful of burning all my Antidotes prematurely in the forest, I dropped back to Route 2 for further grinding…except that Rattatas and Pidgeys pack more of a punch than Caterpies and Weedles, so Reed continued to get rekted (and even Hulk took his fair share of switch-in damage). I hoped that Reed’s quick evolutions would help alleviate the problem, but he didn’t have any more buff or bite as a Kakuna—in fact, he seemed weaker after the evolution!

I finally came up with a workable plan to keep Reed mostly upright (fight the weaker forest monsters, but use Suzy instead of Hulk as a switch-in against Weedles to avoid poisoning), but even then, it took for-freaking-ever for Reed to become a Beedrill and finally start earning his keep (and even then, his unpredictable/inaccurate Fury Attack made me hold my breath every time he flew into battle). Toss his type redundancies on top of all this, and I’m not sure Reed is a long-term solution to my Nuzlocke problem.

Oh, go jump in a lake.

That Rock Won’t Roll

I’d had enough of Viridian Forest by the time Reed became a Beedrill, so I made a mad dash through to the exit, smacking down every Bug Catcher I found along the way. (By the end, even Reed was dominating the competition.) Boring old Route 2 was waiting for me when I made my escape, and after a few battles to to finish off another level for Hulk, I made my grand entrance into Pewter City.

Pewter is basically an amalgamation of every backwater town I’ve ever driven through, because there is absolutely nothing to do there. I stopped at the Pokémon Center, wandered around the museum for a while, and then made my way to the Pewter Pokémon Gym to take on Brock.

I hope the Sacred Flame will have mercy on your soul, because I certainly won’t.

Brock serves as both the final piece of the tutorial and a gate to ensure you understand the type system going forward, so I faced him with zero fear. Rock-types will wreck you if you don’t have the right monsters, but with two of the right monsters like me, this is a cakewalk.

I was a bit surprised when Hulk didn’t one-shot either of his opponents, but they both used Defense Curl and patiently waited for me to boot them into next week. The only excitement came at the very end of the battle, when Suzy learned PoisonPowder and Sleep Powder simultaneously and I had to decide which moves I wanted to keep.

Hey Brock, try not bringing a knife to a gunfight next time.

The Training Wheels Come Off

Once you get to Route 3, the game emphatically declares that it is done with holding your hand by having a horde of Trainers with half-decent monsters waiting to kick your tail right from the very start. The difficulty jump was a bit of a shock, and both Reed and Hulk found themselves on the ropes on several occasions:

  • The infamous “I like shorts!” trainer featured a Rattata with a nasty critical-hit habit and an Ekans that forced me to use a Potion to keep Hulk from succumbing to its Wrap.
  • The also-infamous “I wear shorts year-round!” trainer nearly gave me a heart attack by dropping a LV14 Spearow on me out of nowhere (equalling Hulk’s level at the time). Thankfully, the unpredictability of Fury Attack worked in my favor for a change, and Hulk was able to beat it before it could beat him.
I may or may not have needed a change of underwear after this battle.

Thankfully, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is Rule #1 of Pokémon, and my battle-tested trio came through without sustaining any losses. Suzy put a bow on the winning streak by crushing the final competitor and showing Reed what a real evolution looked like:

Does this look like the face of mercy to you?

After our butt-kicking and gum-chewing session, we made our way into the route’s grass patches, where the game continued to mess with my head:

Oh, is this what you were looking for on Route 22?

Before I started this Nuzlocke run, I predicted that my Brock-facing party would be Bulbasaur/Ivysaur, Beedrill, and a Nidoran of some sort (mostly because I couldn’t catch anything else), so…better late than never? Unfortunately, keeping Nidoran around would mean having three Poison-types on my top line, adding unhelpful Psychic- and Ground-type weaknesses to a team that already feared Flying-types. I caught it, named it Earl after Earl Sinclair from The Dinosaurs, and kept on moving, figuring I’d come up with a plan of action once I reached Mt. Moon.

When Is A Ripoff Actually A Deal?

Route 4 turned out to be not much of a route at all (much like the real Route 4, actually), with a few wandering non-Trainers, no grass patches, and a single Pokémon Center at the base of Mt. Moon. While wandering around inside the Center, however, I stumbled across another famous NPC:

I forgot to take a picture for this, but you know who I’m talking about. (Image from Bulbapedia)

Normally I tell this dude to take long walk off a short pier, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the deal actually made sense this time:

  • Route 4 didn’t have any wild Pokémon to catch (or so I thought, until I checked Serebii and discovered it was a split route like Route 2).
  • Getting Magikarp now would block it later, which might allow me to capture more-interesting Water-types in the future.
  • Adding a Water-type now would help balance out my current wall of Poison-type Pokémon (especially since there’s a 99.9% chance I’ll get a blasted Zubat out of Mt. Moon).
  • If all else fails…you could do a lot worse than having a Gyarados around.

After much thought, I made the deal, naming my new fish Benjamin after the big bills I had to fork out to get him. He couldn’t be any more painful to raise than Reed was…right?

Conclusions

While I thought my rival would be waiting nearby to pounce before I got to Mt. Moon, I was able to enter the cave without any interference, so I decided to end the journal there for now. The team is five deep now, but this plethora of Poison-types I’ve accumulated really makes me nervous. Mt. Moon won’t be a problem, but I’m pretty sure Misty has a Staryu or Starmie waiting for me in Cerulean City, and since the only Pokémon I’ve got that isn’t weak to Psychic moves is a freaking Magikarp, getting that next gym badge is going to be a real pain in the neck.

Tune in next time, when we make our way through Mt. Moon and see if Cerulean City ends up giving us the blues!